Washington Post continued to suggest Whitewater wrongdoing; ignored numerous official investigations that cleared Clintons

In a June 23 editorial, The Washington Post continued to suggest that former President Bill Clinton was guilty of wrongdoing in connection with the Whitewater land deal, despite the fact that numerous government investigations -- most led by Republicans -- turned up insufficient evidence to charge the Clintons with anything. Referring to Clinton's just-released autobiography, My Life, the Post's editorial, bearing the unintentionally appropriate headline “Alternate Universe” -- argued:

The matters leading to impeachment aren't the only ones where Mr. Clinton veers from the nonfiction category. The tangled real estate investments that became known as Whitewater merited investigation, and the inquiry produced numerous convictions.

The Post misled its readers when it wrote of “numerous convictions”; those convictions didn't involve wrongdoing by the Clintons, as the Post well knows. The Post has long existed in its own “alternate reality” regarding Whitewater; the newspaper relentlessly promoted the story, to the point of virtually ignoring the conclusion of each successive government investigation into the matter: that there was no basis for charging the Clintons with any Whitewater crime.

Earlier this year, Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin wrote, in a letter to Columbia Journalism Review, “The Post's obsessive driving of the Whitewater semistory surely told politicians that fiery smoke was roaring out of Bill Clinton's Arkansas. As a result of shoddy reporting in both the Post and The New York Times, the national agenda was easily hijackable. No surprise, it was hijacked, never mind that there was nothing to Whitewater but foam.” In 2002, Salon.com's Joe Conason wrote, “The Post editors apparently believe that, unlike any other targets of a criminal investigation in the United States, the Clintons aren't entitled to the presumption of innocence. For them, a decade of extraordinarily costly investigation that resulted in no indictments, let alone convictions, is not enough to discourage insinuations of guilt.”

The Post has published thousands of articles and editorials about Whitewater -- but, mysteriously, has tended to provide its readers scant coverage of some key developments that pointed to the Clintons' innocence. Some of the many examples include:

In 1995, the Post virtually ignored a report that cleared the Clintons of wrongdoing in several key areas of Whitewater. In December 1995, the law firm of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro produced a report by Republican former prosecutor Jay Stephens for the Resolution Trust Corp. that “found no reason to file civil suits against the president and first lady,” according to Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. The report also noted that the Whitewater investment didn't harm Madison Guaranty (the S&L owned by Whitewater partner Jim McDougal) and “found no basis for the RTC to sue anyone associated with Madison's failure,” according to Kurtz. Yet Kurtz noted that The Washington Post -- his own newspaper -- virtually ignored this government report, produced by a former Republican prosecutor, that cleared the Clintons of wrongdoing in one of the key elements of Whitewater. According to Kurtz, “The Washington Post mentioned the findings Saturday in the 11th paragraph of a front-page story about a Whitewater subpoena battle, and ran a short Associated Press account Tuesday on Page 4.” [Kurtz, The Washington Post, 12/22/95]

In late 1998, the Post editorial page ignored Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr's concession that he lacked evidence to pursue a Whitewater case against Clinton. On November 19, 1998, Kenneth W. Starr told the House Judiciary Committee that he lacked sufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case against Clinton in connection to Whitewater. The Post, which had printed literally thousands of articles about Whitewater -- a Nexis search for Post articles containing the words “Clinton” and “Whitewater” through November 1, 1998, yields more than 2,000 results -- made no mention of this seemingly significant fact in its November 22, 1998, editorial about Starr's testimony. In fact, the Post, which had editorialized heavily about Whitewater for several years, didn't mention the word “Whitewater” at all in an editorial for two months after Starr's concession that he didn't have the goods on Clinton.

In 2002, the Post continued to insist the Clintons might be guilty, even after yet another official investigation concluded with no charges against the Clintons. When Whitewater independent counsel Robert W. Ray, who succeeded Starr in that office, released his final report in 2002 without filing charges against the Clintons, the Post still clung to its “alternate reality” that the Clintons might be guilty of something, anything; the Post editorialized on March 22, 2002, that the evidence was “inconclusive as to whether the Clintons committed crimes in their dealings with James and Susan McDougal” and insisted that there is “ample reason to suspect wrongdoing by both the former president and Sen. Hillary Clinton.”

Even after investigations by special prosecutor Robert Fiske (a Republican); by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr (a Republican); by former prosecutor Jay Stephens (a Republican); by the House Banking Committee (chaired by Republican Jim Leach); by a Senate Whitewater panel (chaired by Republican Alfonse D'Amato) all failed to produce evidence with which to charge the Clintons of a crime, The Washington Post's editorial page stubbornly refuses to acknowledge what had long been obvious: The Clintons are innocent of wrongdoing.

As The New York Times -- a newspaper that has displayed no shyness about pushing Whitewater over the years -- editorialized on March 24, 2002, as Ray was completing his investigation, “If an eight-year investigation fails to find any substantial evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the Clintons, the only fair response is to declare them cleared.”